Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Well... It Doesn't (Completely) Suck...

Well, Detroit will not move east... if for no other reason than, well... there is essentially no East anymore.

Columbus will also not move east... because, well... there is essentially no East anymore.

However, the Board of Governors did not push the Doomsday Red (Wings) Button I envisioned Monday, to essentially nuke the Eastern Conference out of Stanley Cup Final... because well... there is essentially no East anymore.

Instead, the Board approved a new, four-conference plan that will ease the travel schedules of both Columbus and Detroit -- who had the largest stake, in terms of traveling two to three time zones away for major road trips -- and make it so every team will travel and visit every arena in the NHL every year.

Some things will not change much for the Jackets. For one, they will still be in the league's toughest division... except now it's called a "conference." So, that whole "getting to the postseason" thing won't get any easier.

Long story short... the NHL will have four conferences, currently named in a "letter format," but expected to reflect on their geographic position, from the early Twitter chatter I've seen so far.

Conferences A and B are essentially made up of the former Western Conference teams plus Winnipeg. Conference B takes Minnesota from the former Northwest, Winnipeg from the former Southeast, and Dallas from the former Pacific Division. Conference A features the rest of the Pacific (San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Anaheim) with the addition of the rest of the Northwest (Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary).

Meanwhile, in the former Eastern Conference, Florida and Tampa Bay from the former Southeast with join the former Northeast Division of Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Buffalo to form Conference C. Washington and Carolina then join Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the New Yorks and New Jersey to form Conference D.

So, as covered in the league's release, Conferences A and B have eight teams apiece, and C and D have seven apiece. The 82-game schedule remains intact. The teams in C and D will play the teams within their conferences six times each (36 games), and play a home-and-home against the other 23 teams (46). Teams in A and B will have a home-and-home with each of the 22 teams outside the division (44 games), and play the remaining 38 games against teams within the conference. Thus, each team would play three conference teams six times (18), and the other four teams five times (20). In subsequent years, they'd go on a rotational basis, so they'll play six games against an opponent in Year Two, if they played them five times in Year One, and so forth.

The Playoffs... now, this where it gets a little rough. According to the league's plan, the top four teams in each conference get into the Playoffs. That's it. So, it doesn't matter how many teams are better in one Conference versus teams in another conference. If Conference B's 6th-place team is better than Conference A's 2nd-place team... tough.

No top seeds for division leaders anymore. Finish fourth or better... or you're golfing in April.

Each conference's top four teams will be seeded, and play out the first two rounds to determine each conference champion. Then the conference champions will play in the third round... although the league has not figured out exactly how the semifinal round will be seeded yet.

So... there it is. The road to the Playoffs certainly doesn't get easier... does it necessarily get harder? Meh.

On one hand, being in Conference B with the current Central Division plus Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg (they won't suck forever) is definitely going to be challenging.

However, it's also fairly simple. The Jackets know where the bar is. They have to reach that bar like they would any other year. They have, at worst, one dreaded Western Canada Road Trip per year instead of two, one California road trip instead of two. Sure there's quite a bit of travel within Conference B (man, I hope they come up with some good names), but at worst, it's a one-hour time change.

It's not as good as going East, where the Jackets have performed fairly well the last few years, but it will have to do.

At least it's not as bad as Detroit going East.

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